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Criminal Courts Charge

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2015

5. If he will make an assessment of the effect of the criminal courts charge on access to justice; and if he will make a statement. (902597)

Last week, I announced that the Ministry of Justice will review the entire structure and purpose of the financial penalties and orders handed down by courts to offenders, with a view to considering options for simplification and improvement. The Government have listened carefully to the concerns raised about the criminal courts charge, and in the light of those concerns, I decided to pause the imposition of the charge while the wider review is carried out.

May I take the opportunity to congratulate the Secretary of State on scrapping yet another proposal put forward by his predecessor, but may I also remind him that he was Chief Whip at the time and voted for the policy? Individuals have incurred high levels of personal debt, which they are unlikely to be able to pay back, because of this cost. Bearing that in mind, will the Secretary of State review and waive the outstanding payments, which do nothing but blight the finances of our justice system and place an administrative cost on the taxpayer?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her kind words, and for reminding the House that, while I was not an unprecedented success as Chief Whip, I did manage to vote with the Government the majority of the time while I was in that post. It is the case that people will have paid penalties under the criminal courts charge. That was the law at the time, and it will be the law until 24 December. After that, people will not pay the criminal courts charge.

Members on both sides of the House will be pleased that the fixed charge will no longer apply from later this month, but does the Secretary of State agree that it is right that convicted criminals should contribute not only towards supporting victims, but towards the running costs of our criminal courts?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. One of the reasons why we are reviewing the way in which the court orders penalties and fines to be paid is that there is at least a triple purpose: of course penalties need to be paid in order to ensure that people recognise that they have crossed the threshold of the law and need to be punished, but the money raised also goes to help with both the administration of justice and the support of victims.

20. Until 24 December, magistrates will be forced to impose what is now a discredited charge, which has caused many of them to resign. What advice does the Secretary of State give those people in the meantime? (902613)

To obey the law of the land. It is my responsibility to uphold the rule of law. We sought to take steps as quickly as possible after a proper review of the criminal courts charge and after the spending review to suspend the operation of the charge. Twenty-one days after the requisite statutory instrument was laid—that is, on 24 December—there will be no further imposition of the charge.

May I, too, welcome the Lord Chancellor’s fifth U-turn—or is it his sixth? I note that it is somewhat unorthodox to rehabilitate one’s own reputation by trashing one’s predecessor. Will he now clean up the mess his Government have made, rather than walk away from it? When will the charge be repealed by primary legislation? Why is it still being imposed —it does not have to be—up to Christmas? Will the charges already imposed be remitted? Will the magistrates who resigned in protest be reinstated? Will he tell us the cost of the debacle, and how much it adds to the £15 million he has already wasted on the privatisation of fines collection and the secure college?

Order. That was something of a multifaceted question, but I think we can rely on the Secretary of State to respond with his customary elegant simplicity.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. You are quite right that there were more questions in that sally than in a multiple-choice maths GCSE paper.

Yes; I hesitate to say what the mark would be.

We moved as expeditiously as possible to suspend the charge. The best legal advice available to the Department suggested that this was the most effective way of relieving magistrates of the obligation to impose it.